© World Wildlife Fund
21st April 2005
WWF's International Smart Gear Competition announced three new winning solutions to prevent the accidental maiming and killing of marine mammals, juvenile fish and sea turtles that become ensnared by fishing nets and longlines, while also improving the efficiency of commercial fishing.
“These solutions safeguard our living oceans,” said Carter Roberts, president and CEO-elect of WWF-US.
“When WWF began the Smart Gear competition, we looked for real-world solutions to protect the fantastic variety of marine life, increase efficiency and profitability for fishermen, and preserve the bounty of the sea for future generations. Today, I’m happy to announce our competition reeled in three promising innovations.”
These three practical solutions are the inventions of a former high-school biology teacher and commercial fisherman; a North American team worked with the chemical properties of fishing ropes and nets; and a team of Indian scientists familiar with the challenges of changing fishing practices and technologies in a developing country.
“While it’s obvious how vital the ocean’s been to me, we’re all dependent on an ocean full of life and, in turn, it’s dependent on our actions,” said grand-prize winner Steve Beverly, a fisheries development officer for the Pacific Community Secretariat. “It’s just common sense to create smarter fishing gear.”
An international panel of expert judges unanimously awarded the grand prize and US$25,000 to Beverly, an American working in New Caledonia and a former high school biology teacher, commercial fisherman, commercial diver and tugboat operator.
Beverly’s invention consists of weighing down a main fishing line with lead weights and releases, or “set” the baited hooks at depths deeper than 100m, which allows longline fishermen to minimize encounters with sea turtles while maximizing their tuna catch.
He noted that fisheries’ logbook data and studies of sea turtle behaviour indicated that sea turtles swim and become hooked in shallower waters than tuna, the target species of most longline commercial fishing. According to researchers at Duke University in the US State of North Carolina, more than 200,000 loggerheads and 50,000 leatherbacks are accidentally caught annually by commercial longline fisheries.
Successful testing of Beverly's idea has been carried out by three vessels fishing for tuna in Pacific waters. In initial testing, 42 per cent more bigeye tuna were caught using Beverly’s new weighted, deep-set gear.
Smart Gear runners-up
An innovative combination of glowing ropes and stiffer nets — the results of collaboration among a chemist, biologist and fisherman — was recognized as runner-up in the “cetaceans” category.
More than 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises are estimated to die every year from entanglement in fishing gear, more than from any other cause.
Chemist Norm Holy from Pennsylvania, fisheries biologist Ed Trippel from Canada and fisherman Don King from Massachusetts joined forces to develop gear to help marine mammals detect and avoid gillnets before coming into contact with them, as well as allow them to escape unharmed if they still become entangled. To create avoidable, detectable, safer gear, the team tinkered with the chemical properties of the ropes.
A group of scientists from the Central Institute of Fisheries Technology in India — Dr M.R. Boopendranath, Dr P. Pravin, T.R. Gibinkumar and S. Sabu — were also recognized as runners-up for their invention to reduce the bycatch of juvenile shrimp and fish in shrimp trawls.
Trawl fishermen in India and other tropical fisheries depend on both finfish catches and shrimp catches to keep their commercial operations viable, but bycatch of juvenile fish and shrimp are of low commercial value and threaten future populations and catches.
According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, fishermen lose hundreds of millions of dollars a year because of the loss of juvenile fish and non-target fish to bycatch. This team developed a system of angled metal grids and net meshes that catches and sorts mature shrimp and finfish, while allowing juvenile shrimp and fish to swim away unharmed. Sorting mature shrimp and finfish between the lower and upper parts of the net helps to reduce the time the trawler crew spends sorting on deck. This enhances profitability: allowing more time for productive fishing and preventing shrimp from being crushed under the weight of fish and bycatch hauled up on deck, and making the shrimp more valuable in the market place.
“Reducing wasteful practices like bycatch is essential to the health of our oceans and a win-win proposition for fishermen, fish stocks and our marine ecosystems,” said Malcolm McNeill, a judge for the International Smart Gear Competition and vessel manager of global fishing company Sealord Group Ltd.
“Fishing responsibly and reducing bycatch is a top priority for Sealord so we're eager to test some of these Smart Gear ideas in our operations.”
The International Smart Gear Competition was created by WWF-US in May 2004 to bring together partners representing fishermen, fisheries, policy and science to find solutions that will reduce the unnecessary decline of vulnerable species due to bycatch. Applicants from 16 countries applied their ingenuity and expertise to solving this global problem.
WWF and its partners will assist the winners with making their ideas commercially viable.
• Participants in the International Smart Gear Competition were asked to develop fishing gears and/or methods that increase selectivity for target fish species and reduce bycatch of non-target species in ways that still allow fishermen to profitably catch-target species. The competition was open to anyone, including professional gear manufacturers, backyard inventors, fishermen, students, engineers and biologists.
• There were three categories for entries: gear that reduces sea turtle bycatch, gear that reduces cetacean bycatch, and gear that reduces bycatch of any other non-target species. Winning entries will receive assistance for refining their designs and advancing them toward broader use.
• The International Smart Gear Competition judging panel included representatives from: the American Fisheries Society, Center for Sustainable Aquatic Resources at Memorial University of Newfoundland, Fisheries Conservation Foundation, Hubbs-Sea World Research Institute, Institute of Marine Research in Norway, Inter-America Tropical Tuna Commission, Marine Wildlife Bycatch Consortium (includes the New England Aquarium, Duke University, the University of New Hampshire, and the Maine Lobstermen’s Association), New Zealand-based Sealord Group, Ltd., SeaNet (an extension service for fishermen in Australia), Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center, U.K. Center for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (serving as technical advisor), University of Rio Grande in Brazil, and WWF.
For further information:
Kathleen Sullivan, Senior Communications Manager
Tel: +1 202 778 9576